The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Thursday, May 23, 2002  

Calls Bush Administration "Surly," "Defensive"

George F. Will’s recent essay, “The Way Out,” (Washington Post, May 21) makes a strong case -- one Republicans and conservatives would do well to heed -- in favor of creating a commission to examine the nature and extent of any intelligence failures preceding the September 11 attacks on the U.S.

“There is only one way out of the growing -- tardily growing; by no means grown too large -- controversy about investigating intelligence inadequacies prior to Sept. 11. The way out for the administration is to go through an investigation, and not one conducted by itself,” argues Will.

Will points out that more than 250 days have passed since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. By comparison, Will adds, President Franklin D. Roosevelt took just 11 days to appoint a commission “to examine what was known, and what should have been, prior to Dec. 7, 1941,” the date of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

“Last week, one of the most dispiriting in recent Washington history, the administration seemed surly and defensive regarding the inevitably rising tide of questions about governmental intelligence operations before the terrorist attacks,” Will writes, in a refreshingly honest assessment of the administration’s attitude from the conservative end of the political spectrum.

Will questions the administration’s “surly and defensive” posture, but adds that a full-scale inquiry “almost certainly would vindicate President Bush.” No partisan politics there.

Will’s proposed commission would be comprised of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans and would be “of sufficient prestige…[to] overwhelm the institutional rivalries that can make national security a hostage to jurisdictional jealousies.”

Will goes so far as to propose the commission’s membership. Co-chairmen: former secretary of state George Shultz (R) and former senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.). Republican members: Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), former senator Jack Danforth (R-Mo.), and Yale history professor Donald Kagan. Democratic members: Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), former representative Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), and former senator Pat Moynihan (D-N.Y.)

Will is correct in concluding that “[s]ecrecy renders societies susceptible to epidemics of suspicion. A blue-ribbon commission would be immunization against such an epidemic and preventive medicine against future failures. The administration and the nation need to go through it.”

In our opinion, it’s time for the Bush administration to admit the inevitable and join Congress in taking the steps needed to create a fact-finding and recommendation-making commission as soon as possible. Were such a panel to be created with President Bush kicking and screaming -- or worse, outright objecting -- would irreparably damage his political standing and place in history -- and most important -- our national security. Thus, the administration's unwillingness to countenance an investigation is not only short-sighted and suspicious, it is simply dangerous.

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